The mind. This concept, the exact meaning and functioning of which is still subject to speculation and debate today at both the scientific and philosophical levels, refers to the set of cognitive capacities available to a subject.
This set of skills is what allows us, among other things, to have our own identity, to solve simple or complex problems, to detect and process different information and to adapt to the environment.
However, these abilities are not stable from birth to death. For this reason it is of great importance to help develop them as much as possible. For this reason, this article is dedicated to visualising a series of strategies and games to exercise the mind.
A question of brain plasticity
As we have mentioned, intellectual capacities are not an invariable element throughout life, but are modified according to our life experiences, the environment around us and the level of environmental stimulation to which we have access.
This modification is mainly given by brain plasticity, the capacity of the brain to change its structure according to the needs of the organism and its pattern of functioning, allowing the restructuring of the thinking organ through the creation of neuronal synapses. It is this creation of new neuronal networks and the strengthening of old ones that allows us to learn and consolidate new knowledge, enabling us to acquire a new skill and to overcome and recover normal functioning after a brain injury.
Although plasticity is much greater during growth stages such as childhood and later declines, it is a property that continues to exist at all ages, and it is especially important to maintain it and apply it in later stages of life in order to maintain well-being and the correct functioning of intellectual capacities.
Neurogenesis: the ability to renew neurons
However, in order to produce promote neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons) and/or a strengthening or expansion of the synaptic or neuronal networks it is not enough to perform a specific exercise on a single occasion, but rather the modification of one's own skills and behaviour requires regular practice that allows the automation of the new behavioural sequences and strategies, incorporating them into our usual repertoire.
In other words, regular practice is necessary in order to improve or maintain our mental capacities, accompanying all of this with an adequate diet and a healthy lifestyle. And, of course, an excellent way to make the networks of neurons that populate our brain flexible and easily adaptable to the new challenges of everyday life is to use games to exercise the mind: these will get our brain used to creating a rich and varied network of interconnections, which will allow us to have greater mental flexibility.
Thirteen games to exercise the mind
Let's look at a series of games to exercise the mind.
1. Mathematical training
The use of mathematics as a strategy to exercise the mind is known to many, including activities such as sudoku and other traditional games. However, this time the game is based on choosing a number completely at random (e.g. 12,345) and from other numbers (e.g. 6, 7, 8 and 9) developing a series of mathematical strategies in order to reach the initial number. This can be done by adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing... It can be complicated by requiring the use of specific elements, such as the use of square roots or more complex elements.
2. Find the pairs
Another game to exercise the mind, especially visuospatial memory, is the game of card pairs. It is based on displaying a set of pairs of identical cards on a table or flat surface after shuffling them (the type of deck or even images if available is indifferent, although it is recommended to use images that are easy to remember). The game consists of visualizing the set of cards face up, visualizing the location of each pair of cards and after ten seconds of memorization turning them all over.
Then you have to turn one of the cards over and then remember where your partner was located and also turn them over. The game continues until all the pairs of cards are found. This strategy for exercising the mind can be made more difficult by making the images to be remembered or recognised more complex, or by increasing the number of cards as the game ends and begins again.
3. List of words
On this occasion the intention is to train the memory by adding a creative component. The game or strategy consists of the initial creation of a list of simple words, of a maximum of seven items. This list will be read by all participants, and can be read aloud by one of them or each participant can be given ten seconds to memorise it. The game in question consists of each participant repeating the list of words in the same order in which they were issued in the list, adding at the end of the list one more word of their own.
The next individual has to remember and say aloud the list plus the word added by the previous one and in turn add another, and so on. The strategy to exercise the mind is based on the retention of information, with a component of distraction by having to imagine one more word and needing to pay attention to incorporate the new words. Specifically, the working memory is exercised, especially the auditory memory.
4. Find your symbol
This memory game is based on sustained attention. It can be used with symbols, words, letters or numbers. To do this you simply use a varied set of symbols and signs, in which you carefully search for one or more specific items. Technically, the operation is almost identical to that of the classic alphabet soup. Besides attention, in this game you can observe the processing speed of the subjects, if you measure the time they take to perform the task.
5. Word game: word association
This game requires several participants. In it, the first of the subjects says a word, with the next participant having to answer another word which begins with the same syllable as the one said by the previous individual. It can be complicated by adding rules such as the fact that they belong to the same lexical family or thematic area, or even by trying to give the whole form of a story. It improves processing speed and mental agility, as well as creativity.
6. Finding the differences
In order to reinforce concentration, ability to discriminate between stimuli and ability to focus on details, the game of finding differences is very useful for exercising the mind. Its operation is based on the location of a certain number of differences between two apparently equal images.
7. Puzzles and similars
Playing a game or activity as well known as a puzzle is also a very valid strategy to exercise the mind. Specifically, it serves to exercise the manipulative and visuospatial skills, by having to operate with the situation of the pieces and place them correctly so that the pieces fit together. To increase complexity, the number of pieces required can be increased, or we can move on to three-dimensional puzzles such as Rubik's cubes.
8. Making up a story
This strategy for exercising the mind is simple but very useful**. It tries to stimulate creativity by developing a short story**, in which a series of concrete words chosen in advance must appear. These words can be known by the person doing the exercise or they can be unknown, in which case the challenge is greater whether he or she does not use external aids (a dictionary for example) or whether he or she does, allowing the development of strategies to compensate for difficulties.
9. Riddles and dilemmas
This kind of strategy to exercise the mind is grateful and enjoyable for both adults and children. It is based on solving riddles and dilemmas by using the logic and creativity of the participants. Lateral thinking is also encouraged if questions are used that have no simple solution or that are completely correct or incorrect, seeking to generate new strategies.
Although it may not seem like it, debate is one of the best games to exercise the mind. Participating in one on a regular basis allows one to train in argumentation and the creation of coherent discourses. For example, it forces us to think about the best responses to the arguments of the opposite party, to prioritise some of our own arguments over others, to detect fallacies in the explanations of the other party and avoid them in ourselves, etc.
Any chess trainer will agree: chess is the paradigm of play in which the anticipation of possible future scenarios is of fundamental importance. It's a game in which we have to follow some very specific rules, which makes chance lose protagonism, and that's why we have to try to think of a series of possible moves both of the opponent and of ourselves. If you encourage yourself to learn to play, think that a good chess coach can be the most effective way to achieve your objectives. Do you have a personal trainer in the gym? Why don't you treat your mind the same?
12. Exquisite body
A group game in which each person, in turn, makes the part of a drawing based on what the person has drawn from the previous turn. It can also be done by writing down parts of a story instead of drawing. An excellent way to work on creativity.
13. Rote counting
This game is very simple and can be played almost anywhere. When you are stressed in an area where there are a lot of objects or people, close your eyes and try to count by memory the amount of one of those elements.